17 November 2023, The Tablet

Church leaders pray for peace and condemn hate in Europe and US

“We demand that terrorists are brought to justice, that all civilian lives – Jewish, Christian and Muslim – are protected.”

Church leaders pray for peace and condemn hate in Europe and US

A pro-Israel march in Paris drew 105,000 people.
Sipa USA/Alamy

A joint meeting of the two largest Church councils in Europe called for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war and humanitarian corridors in the Gaza Strip.

The Catholic CCEE (Council of Bishops Conferences in Europe) and the Protestant and Orthodox CEC (Council of European Churches), meeting in Belgrade, denounced the 7 October attack by Hamas on Israel and urged “negotiations to create a lasting peace”.

The two networks represent Christian churches across the continent, with the Russian Orthodox Church – which suspended its CEC membership in 2009 – the only major church not represented.

“We demand that terrorists are brought to justice, that all civilian lives – Jewish, Christian and Muslim – are protected,” the statement said. “The grave situation in which the people of Gaza live, restricted in their fundamental rights and forced to suffer injustices, has been going on for too long.”

On a visit to Israel, Bishop Heiner Wilmer of Hildesheim in northern Germany expressed sympathy with the victims of the war in Gaza and condemned the Hamas attack on 7 October which had “most brutally murdered” innocent people “without ifs and buts”.

Wilmer, who also heads the German branch of Justitia et Pax, said Israel had international law on its side but added: “I also have the images of the suffering of the people in Gaza in my mind.

“Far, far too many have died. The humanitarian situation in Gaza is terrible. People are surrounded by ruins. They live in continual fear and haven’t even the barest necessities for survival”.

He also noted the role of the religious communities “without whom it will not be possible to achieve a lasting peace” and condemned every form of antisemitism and Islamophobia.

“As long as people are marginalised and degraded because of their ethnic background or religion, there can be no peace,” he said.

Wilmer visited the grave of Oskar Schindler on Mount Zion and the Holocaust Museum in Yad Vashem, and later celebrated the Feast of the Feeding of the Five Thousand at the Benedictine Abbey in Tabgha.

In France, marches opposing anti-semitism on 12 November drew 105,000 in Paris and 77,000 in several other cities.

In an address, Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort of Reims who heads the French bishops’ conference repeated the Church’s opposition to antisemitism, its “communion” with the suffering Gazan people and hope for a peaceful settlement and a two-state solution.

“War is coming back as a tool of politics, and it’s awful,” he said.

In Belgium, the Bishop of Antwerp – home to many strict Haredi Jews – issued a letter criticising Israeli conduct in Gaza.

Bishop Johan Bonny began his open letter, “Jewish friends, I cannot remain silent any longer”, saying the insistence of some Israeli leaders that the Bible justified “a violent occupation of the Holy Land” was “infuriating … they reinforce the impression that religion has to do with blood, land and violence.”

The Flemish Jewish magazine Joods Actueel responded sharply: “It would be wiser to focus on child rapes by your church colleagues. Israelis will decide themselves what steps are apt to deal with Hamas child rapists.”

In the US, over 150 rabbis and rabbinic students have signed a petition for a ceasefire in Gaza, and Jewish groups held protests against the war at the Statue of Liberty.

On 9 November, Churches from Middle East Peace (CMEP) and 30 American Christian leaders wrote to President Joe Biden calling on him to use US influence with Israel to support an immediate ceasefire and de-escalation.

“We support the demilitarisation of the conflict rather than supplying additional military aid or arms to Israel at this time,” they said.

“We join the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem in the call for the international community to enforce immediate protections in Gaza for Sanctuaries of Refuge such as hospitals, schools, and houses of worship.”

They repeated the concerns voiced by Church leaders in Jerusalem about the future of Christianity and other faiths in the Holy Land and noted attacks on Palestinians – including Palestinian Christians – in the West Bank by illegal settlers.

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